Deborah Oyer, MD

Telling the Truth About Abortion

Dr. Deborah Jean Oyer, a physician at a Seattle-area clinic and an Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Washington, has been providing abortions for more than 11 years. She has found her work to be deeply satisfying. “It’s quite an honor to do abortions,” she says. “Whether to have an abortion may be the most difficult decision a woman will ever make, and I can help. To do this job—and to do it well—is just wonderful.”

Dr. Oyer always knew that abortion would be part of her practice. “I didn’t have a big epiphany about abortion—there was just never a question that I would provide,” she says. Her experience with her patients has confirmed her initial commitment. “As you listen to women’s stories, you get so you have to give each woman the same rights as everyone else.”

The majority of Dr. Oyer’s patients are women between the ages of 19 and 29. “They are struggling with everything in their lives. Not because they’re in a bad place, it’s just that that’s what life’s about then,” she says. “They need to figure out birth control. Are they going to have children? Is this the right relationship for children? An unwanted pregnancy brings everything to a head. Regardless of what a woman decides to do, it’s a life-changing experience.”

After earning her MD from Harvard Medical School, Dr. Oyer chose to specialize in women’s reproductive health because, “I love taking care of healthy women and following patients over the long term.” She did her internship and residency in Family Medicine at Providence Medical Center, which is affiliated with the University of Washington. Dr. Oyer was Medical Director of Planned Parenthood in the Seattle area for many years before she started her own clinic that provides comprehensive reproductive healthcare.

She has not experienced the harassment many abortion providers have. “In Seattle, being an abortion provider is not such a big deal, but it is a lifestyle choice. One has to decide what level of risk you are willing to take.” Dr. Oyer believes physicians should be much more supportive of their colleagues who provide abortions. “Doctors should stand behind physicians when they are harassed,” she says. “They should talk to their partners and friends who do abortions. In fact, they should say thank you.”

Dr. Oyer attributes the lack of solidarity among doctors to the general lack of information. “It’s not necessarily anti-choice sentiment, but ignorance that’s the problem,” she says. “I’m ignorant about knee replacement, so I ask. Why don’t doctors ask me about my specialty? Doctors need to know the reality about family planning and abortion.”

“Ignorance about family planning and abortion—whether or not you provide these services—is a disservice to your patients,” she says. “At a minimum, doctors need to know the reality about abortion and birth control so they can guide or refer their patients. Most of all, they need to learn to talk in a nonjudgmental way to their patients. No matter what you think about it personally, your patients need to know where to start when trying to access these services.”

For many years, Dr. Oyer has made a commitment to train medical students, residents, fellows and physicians in abortion and contraception. She has provided training in first trimester abortion, lectured on abortion and contraception at conferences and universities and coordinated a family planning rotation for residencies at the University of Washington. She is currently Assistant Clinical Professor in Family Medicine at the University of Washington. “It takes a lot of time,” she says, “but it’s so important that they find out the truth about abortion.”